January 8, 2021
Dear West Virginia University Campus Community,
On Wednesday afternoon, I, along with the rest of our country, bore witness to the events that occurred on the grounds of our nation’s Capitol. I found myself at a loss for words. I have repeatedly said that we must protect the right to free speech and the right to protest – but we must do so civilly and peacefully. There is never a rationale worthy of the violence, mayhem and flagrant disrespect demonstrated that day.
Yesterday, I reflected frequently on what can only be described as an attack on our nation’s democracy. It was incomprehensible and inexcusable. I have also given much thought to what our role as a university should be in the aftermath.
I believe that our democracy is sacred, strong and will always prevail – even in the darkest of times. The most vibrant indicator of this is when Congress walked back into the building to fulfill its mission of completing the election process. Though interrupted, the people’s representatives were undeterred.
I view that determination as a symbol of hope – and as a calling for those in higher education.
Education has been a keystone of democracy from the nation’s earliest days. Our founders knew that our radical experiment in self-government would only succeed if its citizens had the knowledge to reason and debate, to think and to act.
Educators at all levels have a covenant with our children and our children’s children: To prepare them to uphold our nation’s wholly connected ideals of individual accountability, collective action and informed debate.
At a time when much public discourse is caustic, fragmented and devoid of real meaning, universities must empower students to develop the ability to think critically and understand compassionately, but also provide a forum for balanced discussion and debate about issues of importance.
Universities also have a responsibility to create campus cultures free of racism, bias and social injustice. We must encourage people to nourish change by recognizing and stepping beyond their biases. We must forge inclusive communities, where everyone is valued and every voice is heard.
Universities also have a responsibility to teach future generations how to separate fact from fiction, and truth from untruths. In a world where information is derived from thirty-second soundbites and unverified postings, a free press is a valued and necessary cornerstone of our democracy. Knowing how to be careful consumers of information will lead to more thoughtful and vibrant discussions of the important issues we face.
This critical work will not be accomplished without the support and leadership of many.
I urge our faculty, staff and students to see every challenge as an opportunity to think differently, to connect more deeply and to reinvent ourselves for the long-term benefit of our nation.
I appreciate our lawmakers, both at the federal and state levels, who recognize the importance of an educated citizenry to a functioning democracy and a prosperous society. As partners, we must continue working together to acknowledge problems, devise rational solutions and invest in their success.
I ask that you spend time reflecting on the actions taken against our democracy and what it means for our country. When you return to campus, consider how you can work with others to show the world we are better than what they saw. I have no doubt what the world saw that afternoon does not have to be what the world sees today, tomorrow and every day forward. We can pioneer change right here on our campus and throughout West Virginia.
As we enter a new year and a new semester, let us remain focused on the urgent work we have before us. Stay safe and be well. Lean on others for support and insight as we move forward. And let us be driven by our values and powered by our purpose. Be undeterred.
E. Gordon Gee
President, West Virginia University